Tick paralysis in spectacled flying-foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) on the Atherton Tableland: impact of a terrestrial ectoparasite finding a non-terrestrial host.
Petra G Buettner1,7, David A Westcott2,3, Jennefer Mclean4, Lawrence Brown1, Adam McKeown2, Ashleigh Johnson4, Karen Wilson1, David Blair5, Jonathan Luly6, Lee Skerratt1, Reinhold Muller1,7, and Richard Speare1,7.
1School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia; 2CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Atherton, Queensland, Australia; 3Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia; 4Tolga Bat Hospital, Atherton, Australia; 5School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia; 6School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia; 7Tropical Health Solutions Pty Ltd, Idalia, Townsville, Australia.
This paper used data collected by the Bat Hospital over 12 years. The study has demonstrated that the paralysis tick, usually considered a terrestrial ectoparasite, is affecting large numbers of SFF, a non-terrestrial host, in only a portion of the host’s range. The numbers of SFF in the study area, and the numbers and rates of SFF affected, were highly variable reflecting the difficulty of obtaining accurate population counts for a species that is highly mobile. More adult females were affected than adult males, and importantly higher juvenile mortality rates were observed during drier years. All of the tick-affected SFF camps lay within the core range of wild tobacco, S. mauritianum. Further studies are needed to better understand if this introduced plant is the major risk factor for acquisition of paralysis tick by this vulnerable host species, and whether feasible strategies to decrease the impact of tick paralysis can be developed.